Tides by V. M. Caldwell; Milkweed
Editions: Minneapolis, 2001; $16.95
People of all ages will love V. M. Caldwell’s Tides, a touching, well-written story. The author includes characters of different ages and personalities, making it enjoyable for a vast expanse of readers. Children who have lost a parent or are experiencing a difficult childhood will especially like the book because it gives hope that things can work out.
Tides is about an orphan, Elizabeth, who has recently been adopted by the Sheridan family. Every year the Sheridans go to the ocean to visit their grandmother and cousins. Elizabeth has always wanted to see the ocean, and she looks forward to the trip all year. But when she arrives, she discovers that she is terrified of the water.
At the same time, the oldest Sheridan cousin, Adam, is angry and disturbed. Earlier in the year his two best friends were killed while driving home, drunk, from a party. He has never really recovered from the shock of the tragic accident. He treats his grandmother and parents disrespectfully and is cruel to his siblings. The Sheridans’ struggles with these two central problems result in their growth as a family.
I have had an experience very similar to Elizabeth’s: ever since I was little, I wanted to learn to swim. Most of my friends could swim, and I envied them very much. I always imagined myself diving into crystal-clear, cool water, swimming with dolphins, and finding mermaid cities. But when I finally went to Lake Michigan, I hated it. The water was freezing and I got cramps. The pebbles hurt my feet, and I couldn’t stand the smell of fish. When I felt seaweed swirl around my leg, I thought it was a fish, coming to eat me. I was so scared that I ran all the way back to the beach and wouldn’t go back into the water for a long time. Most terrifying of all were the waves. I was afraid they would knock me over and that I wouldn’t be able to get back up again. Elizabeth, too, was frightened of the waves, and the seaweed-fish smells made her nauseous.
Throughout the entire story, the author helps you relate to all the characters by revealing their feelings and emotions. She writes wonderful dialogue that gives no doubt as to what they are feeling. For example, when Adam comes home because he has learned that his cousin was injured, his sister Molly is openly hostile to him. The description of Molly’s face and tone as well as the dialogue make it obvious that Molly thinks Adam deserted the family and doesn’t deserve to be called a Sheridan any longer.
One thing I especially liked about Tides was that the situations in the story were very believable. Often the events in a story are possible, but not probable. In Tides, the characters handle their problems in ways that people might handle their problems in reality. For example, Adam decides to “solve” his problems with the family by leaving home. This is something that happens to many disturbed teens. Adam gets a job close by home for a while but in the fall decides to sign up for conservation work in a national park, instead of going to college as he had originally planned. Despite all the conflicts the author weaves into her plot, everyone’s problems are resolved in a heart-warming, believable way.
My favorite message from Tides is that a truly loving family can never be separated. The Sheridans live through many heart-wrenching situations that few families would live through without being permanently damaged. My own family has lived through an extremely difficult situation, but we are still here. Now that everything is over, I can see how we were there for each other the entire time, giving hope and support—just like the Sheridans.